It was a shaky start, but Florida once again found a way to pull through.
Forget about sophomore Alicia Boren’s missed handstand on the bars to open the meet and freshman Rachel Gowey’s fall on the apparatus two routines later.
Forget about the .325 deficit the third-ranked Gators had against Georgia halfway through the meet.
And forget about the nerves and the tenseness this normally upbeat team felt as they entered their locker room with two events left.
Florida stormed through the final two rotations and overcame that early deficit to win the Gainesville Regional of the NCAA Gymnastics Championships on Saturday punched its ticket to nationals in St. Louis with a score of 197.125. The Bulldogs also advanced to nationals with a 196.775 score to take second in the O’Connell Center.
“Glad that’s over,” a relieved UF coach Jenny Rowland said immediately after the meet before letting out a brief yell of excitement.
It was a trying meet early on for the home team.
After those two mishaps on the bars, Florida finished with three stuck routines from junior Kennedy Baker (9.875), freshman Amelia Hundley (9.900) and junior Alex McMurtry (9.95).
“I’m normally pretty chill, but I was a little nervous that time,” Baker said of following up Gowey’s fall.
An 49.225 team score on the beam one rotation later -- highlighted by a 9.9 from McMurtry in the anchor spot -- gave Florida momentum heading into its bye.
“I could tell back there the weight had been lifted off our shoulders,” Rowland said.
Florida responded and closed out the meet with the top-two scoring rotations: A 49.45 on the floor and a 49.475 on the vault.
“We picked up some momentum there and we just had a blast,” said McMurtry, who was named the Southeast Region Gymnast of the Year and had the highest individual all-around score with a 39.675. “It was our last time this season in front of our fans. I think we did really well and built off every single score.”
Rowland added: “Regionals is always a challenging meet,” Rowland said. “It’s something that we don’t talk about. It’s do or die. You qualify or you don’t qualify.”
And now, Florida has qualified for nationals. Again. UF is heading to nationals for the 35th time in the 36-year history of the event and has a chance to win its fourth national title in five years.
“This team showed a lot of heart, a lot of determination and a lot of fight,” Rowland said. “It’s not over until that last routine.”